Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prison and Execution

The letters Camille Desmoulins wrote to Lucile from his cell in the Luxembourg prison are heartbreaking, but since when has that stopped me from dwelling on something?  I feel that I owe it to these people to learn, to remember, to care.

So, here goes...

From his prison window, Camille could see the gardens he'd strolled with his wife in better days and  he wrote, as his tears stained the paper.:

"It brings back to me so many recollections of our love…then I throw myself on my knees, I stretch out to embrace you…"

"I sleep and heaven has pity on me, for in sleep one is free again.  Just a moment ago I saw you in a dream and held you in my arms again.  You and our little Horace and Daronne [Lucile's mother], who had come to visit us.  But, our little boy had lost an eye and my grief awoke me…  I married a wife who was heavenly in her virtues.  I have been a good husband and son.  I would've been a good father.

And, "Oh, my beloved Lucile, I was born to write poetry, to defend the unfortunate and to make you happy."

And, "The shores of life are receding from me!  I see you still, my Lucile, my beloved!  My bound hands embrace you and my head as it falls into the basket will rest its dying eyes on you."

Poor Camille was so distraught at the knowledge of his fate, and the fact that his wife would soon follow, that at the final "toilette" he had to be restrained, actually tied to the bench, so that his hair could be cut in preparation for the blade.  He asked Danton to reach into his pocket and place the lock of Lucile's hair into his bound hands.

As the loaded tumbrel traveled the length of rue St. Honoré, it passed the home where Robespierre lived with the Duplay family and Danton roared, "Vile Robespierre!  You will follow me.  Your house will be leveled and the ground where it stood will be sowed with salt."  His prediction didn't entirely come to pass.  Robespierre followed in short order, but the house, most of it, anyway, remains.  I visit it every time I go to Paris.

Camille completely lost his composure as the tumbrel passed through the crowd.  Danton tried to console his friend, but at one point, Camille began screaming "People!  They have lied to you.  They are sacrificing your servants!  My only crime is to have shed tears."  Danton turned to him and said. "Be quiet.  Leave that vile rabble alone." 

Perhaps, as I've said about the Comtesse du Barry's rare show of emotionally charged panic on the scaffold, if fewer people had gone to their deaths frozen with horror, resignedly, or too proud to show emotion and more had reacted like Camille Desmoulins, sympathetic public opinion would've been aroused and the whole tragic episode in history would've ended sooner.  

Camille and Danton (pictured, bold to the end) were executed within minutes of each other with Camille the third  and Danton the last of the group.

One last thought from Camille Desmoulins:

"J'avais rêvé une republique que tout le monde eût adorée.  Je n'ai pu croire que les hommes fussent si féroces et si injustes."  Camille Desmoulins to his wife, Lucile, from prison, April 4, 1794.

"I dreamed of a republic that everyone would love.  I could not believe that men were so fierce and so unjust." 

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